United States Ambassador to Great Britain Walter Hines Page to Secretary of State Frank Lansing and President Woodrow Wilson
SENT: April 27th, 1917. TO: Secretary of State,
7.20 p.m. Washington
Very confidential for Secretary and President.
There is reason for greatest alarm about the issue of the war caused by the increasing success of the German submarines. If the present rate of destruction can be kept up, we shall have soon to contemplate the defeat of Great Britain.
I have it from official sources that during week ending 22 April 88 ships of 237000 tons Allied and Neutral were lost, not counting fishing craft. And a number of vessels unsuccessfully attacked indicates a great increase in number of submarines in action. This means practically a million tons loss every month till shorter days of the Autumn come. By that time the sea will be about cleared of shipping.
Most of the ships are sunk to westward and southward of Ireland. The British have in that area every available anti-submarine craft but their whole force is so insufficient that they hardly discourage the submarines.
The British transport of troops and supplies is already strained to the utmost and the maintenance of the armies in the field is threatened.
There is food enough here to last the civil population only not more than six weeks or two months.
Whatever help the United States may render at any time in the future or in any theatre of the war our help is now more seriously needed in this submarine area for the sake of all the Allies than it can ever be needed again or anywhere else.
After talking over this critical situation with the Prime Minister1 and other members of the Government, I cannot refrain from most strongly recommending the immediate sending of every destroyer and all other craft that can be of anti-submarine use.
It seems to me the sharpest crisis of the war and the most dangerous situation for the Allies that has arisen or can arise. If enough submarines can be destroyed in the next two or three months the war will be won and if we can contribute effective help immediately it will be won directly by our aid.
I cannot exaggerate the pressing and increasing danger of this situation.
Thirty or more destroyers and other similar craft sent by us immediately would very likely be decisive.
There is no time to be lost.2
NO. OF COPIES. 2. REFERENCE NO.
Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517. A copy of this cable is in the Josephus Daniels Papers, DLC. In a letter to his wife of the same date, RAdm. William S. Sims wrote that the “submarine campaign is getting so serious” that he asked Page to “send a cable directly to the President – pointing it out.” He added that Page was at Brighton, some fifty miles from London, for “a bit of rest” and Sims went by car to see him and to bring a cable, which Sims “wrote out” and Page was to sign: “I made it as urgent as I thought he would stand for. He at once agreed to send it, but said he thought he could make it stronger, and he certainly did and it went off this morning. . . . I am in hopes that this telegram will cause the President to order the navy to get a move on and send over all the destroyers that can get here.” Sims to Anne Hitchcock Sims, 27 April, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers.
Footnote 1: David Lloyd George.
Footnote 2: In later testimony before Congress, Sims discussed this cablegram. He said that he had already sent multiple messages to the Navy Department spelling out the dire situation. He added:
I had no reason, however, to believe that this one additional message would bring the action necessary. But something had to be done. The issues at stake were too great for me to be satisfied with the action so far taken.
One other course seemed to be open. My representative capacity abroad in a sense placed me under the ambassador. Throughout my service abroad I always considered it a duty to keep the State Department generally informed of the military situation.
In this case I made an urgent appeal to the ambassador, asking him to support me in an attempt to get our Government to realize the necessities of the situation. I submitted a memorandum to the ambassador . . . . On the same day—i.e., on April 27—the ambassador sent the following message to the State Department. Naval Investigation, 1: 41.
The memorandum Sims sent Page gave the latest statistics on submarine sinkings and included the plea that Page made here for American assistance. In his testimony, Sims also included a copy of Page’s cable, which is “the following message” he mentioned. Ibid.